At the request of the Spanish, German and Finnish authorities, Eurojust and Europol have supported an action against a massive investment fraud involving the use of cryptocurrencies. The victims of this major online fraud are estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands. During operations on 8 and 9 November in Albania, Bulgaria, Georgia, North Macedonia and Ukraine, 15 call centres were searched and 5 suspects arrested.
The suspects allegedly belong to an organised crime group (OCG) believed to be involved in an investment fraud using cryptocurrencies. The criminal network used dozens of call centres in several countries and hundreds of online platforms to commit the fraud.
The suspects presented themselves as brokers who would help the investors earn large amounts of money through small investments. In reality, the OCG deceived the victims by gaining their trust online as well as through professionally set-up call centres or other modes of so-called social engineering. This encouraged victims to invest via web platforms controlled by the criminal organisation, which resulted in them losing large sums of money.
The scale of the investigations in such cases is so far unprecedented. As revealed by the investigations, hundreds of thousands of investors all over the world have fallen victim to the fraud, dating back at least to 2016. The damage caused is estimated at EUR 50 million per quarter. Investigations into the cyber scam began in 2018, with seven countries having opened judicial cases against the OCG to date.
Eurojust facilitated judicial cooperation in this case by setting up and funding a joint investigation team (JIT), set up at the request of the Swedish authorities and also involving Albania, Finland, Georgia, Germany, Latvia, Spain and Ukraine. A total of 13 coordination meetings were organised to coordinate the national investigations and prepare for the action day. The Agency also facilitated the execution of International Arrest Warrants, European Investigation Orders and Letters of Request to third countries.
Europol provided analytical support to the investigations and organised seven operational meetings. To support the action day on 8 and 9 November 2022, Eurojust set up a coordination centre to enable rapid cooperation between the involved judicial authorities.
As a result, 15 call centres were searched (6 in Albania, 5 in Georgia, 3 in Ukraine and 1 in North Macedonia), as well as 27 other locations and 5 vehicles. 5 suspects have been arrested, 4 in Albania and 1 in Georgia. Approximately 50 hearings (suspects and witnesses) have been conducted. Seizures include over 500 electronic devices (computers, laptops, USBs, hard disks), more than EUR 340 000 in cash, several mobile phones, several bank accounts, cryptocurrency wallets, properties, ID documents and bank cards, and hundreds of other documents. Potential investors are advised to be extra vigilant when investing online and to check whether websites belong to legitimately operating enterprises.
The following authorities took part in this investigation (also indicated is the number of officials who participated in the action days):
- Albania: Special Prosecution Office against Corruption and Organized Crime (SPAK) and Albanian State Police; Around 220 prosecutors, investigators, police officers and employees of different agencies participated in the actions in Albania.
- Bulgaria: Sofia City Prosecutor’s Office and the investigation’s department attached to it; General Directorate Combating Organized Crime at the Ministry of Interior; local police departments at the Sofia Directorate of Police at Ministry of Interior; 12 Bulgarian judicial and law enforcement officials participated in the actions in Bulgaria.
- Finland: National Bureau of Investigation; Prosecution District of Southern Finland
- Georgia: Office of the Prosecutor General of Georgia; Investigation Service of the Ministry of Finance of Georgia; Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia; State Security service; 250 Georgian law enforcement officers participated in the actions in Georgia.
- Germany: Office of the Public Prosecutor General in Bamberg – Bavarian Central Office for the Prosecution of Cybercrime; Criminal Police Department with Central Tasks Upper Frankonia; Federal Criminal Police Office Prosecutor General’s Office Dresden, Public Prosecutor’s Office Leipzig, State Office of Criminal Investigations Saxony, Police Department Chemnitz, Police Department Leipzig Around 60 German officials took part in the actions in Georgia.
- Latvia: Rīga Judicial Region Prosecution Office; Cybercrime Enforcement Department of the Central Criminal Police Department of the State Police of Latvia; Asset Recovery Office of Latvia
- North-Macedonia: Basic Public Prosecution Office for Prosecuting Organized Crime and Corruption; Ministry of Interior (police); a prosecutor and 28 police officers from North Macedonia took part in the actions in North Macedonia.
- Spain: Investigative Court no. 2 La Seu dÚrgell; Public Prosecution Office Lleida; Criminal Investigation Division of Mossos d’Esquadra; Guardia Civil; 33 Spanish officials took part during the actions in Albania.
- Sweden: Swedish Prosecution Authority, National Unit against Organised Crime Swedish Police, Fraud Unit Stockholm
- Ukraine: Prosecutor General’s Office; Main Investigative Department and Cyber Department of National Police of Ukraine; 85 Ukrainian officials participated in the actions in Ukraine.